“He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff . . .”
The rich, resonating, calming baritone of the La Lectura began to weave Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea for us for perhaps the hundredth time, as we Torcedores settled once more into the rhythm of preparing our bunches of tobacco leaves perfectly for the press. We could not have done our demanding work without La Lectura, the reader who sat on the dais on the cigar factory floor, reading to us, first from the daily press and then from classical works—and sometimes, to our great privilege, reciting poetry to us in perfect rhythm to the set movements of our leaf bundling.
In this way he was not only transporting us from the onerous work of bunching the leaves of a perfect Vegas Robaina cigar in the demanding style of the Entubado, rolling each of five varieties of tobacco leaves separately and covering them with the binder Capote leaf before sending the bunch to the press, but also in transporting us beyond the drabness of the factory.
Day in and day out, we gathered in the dusty outskirts of Minas de Matahambre in Cuba’s Vuelta Abajo region, famous for its premium cigars, at this dimly lit, factory—more a cavernous open-ended shed than a building—to repeat again and again, the perfect bunching of cigars that each would sell on the European market for more than one of us made in two week’s time.
La Lectura was salvation for us—and more for me than any of the other workers here. Only he, Estaban, and I were of Spanish stock. All of the other workers here, peasants all, were Mulattos or Mestizos. I had worked among them for nearly two years in almost complete isolation, and not only because of our different statuses. I chose to live not in the village but in a small, crude shack at the seaside, more than an hour’s walk from the factory. Isolation was my protection; I had my secret to bear. I lived in fear that the others would find me out and I’d lose even this existence and have to retreat even farther into the island’s interior.
I rested for a moment from the work of the Torcedore, the cigar roller, to gaze at Estaban, La Lectura, the glorious alien presence in this room, delivering culture and transport from this world of care in his rich baritone voice.
Estaban paused in his reading, seemingly sensing someone was watching him. I lowered my face, not wanting him to know it was me. But I slanted my gaze and saw Estaban’s eyes stop and link with those of Teotilo, the dark-skinned Mulatto, small and somewhat effeminate of stature and slow of wit runner, who took our bunched tobacco packets from our rolling tables to the cigar presses. Teotilo was barely as old as I was, but he had been working here for ten years or more, since he had been a boy of no more than nine or ten. He was a good-looking young man of pleasant humor, despite the drabness of his never-varied, subsistence life. But, like any of us who could not escape this life, his prime would be over before he reached twenty-five and then, overnight, he would become an old man. In his case, as small-boned and thin and slow-witted as he was, I could not see him living into his thirties. But, then, maybe being a little dense helped him endure this monotony.
He had stopped in the rhythm of his running from factory tables to press and was looking at Estaban in total awe and admiration. Estaban was from Havana, another world altogether from Minas de Matahambre, a paradise, albeit thin veneered, of culture and sophistication and beauty to country peasants who had never been outside their isolated provinces in the remote peninsulas of Cuba. And Estaban was a handsome, well-built man of pure, patrician Spanish stock. This was in addition to being educated and refined and to having that rich baritone voice that had brought him to the highly honored position of La Lectura for one of the best of Cuban cigar brands, the Vegas Robaina, in the heart of the island’s tobacco region.
I saw the grin spread across Teotilo’s face as he realized that La Lectura had singled him out for attention and a smile. The women rollers near me, Estelle, Maela, and Yelina, all as smitten as Teotilo with the handsome, mysterious, velvet-voiced La Lectura, sighed at the realization that Estaban’s smile was not for them and returned to their leaf bunching.
Teotilo seemed almost to melt on the spot in the sunshine of Estaban’s smile, and I almost melted with him. I was so, so lonely among these Mulatto and Mestizo peasants, and so, so bored with the monotonous repetition of the leaf bundling. If it wasn’t for Estaban—a Spanish city-formed soul like me—and his rich baritone reading connecting us with and transporting me to the outside world, I could not endure this existence for much longer. I would have given anything if that smile had been for me. But I could not even think of it; it brought me too close to the raw edge of my secret, what had banished me here in the first place.
“Ssst. You are lagging behind, Ramon,” hissed Ernesto, the shift foreman, one of those barely thirty-year-old countrymen who had already collapsed in on himself in ugliness and ill health, one foot in the grave, the other foot on this factory floor until the day he no longer could stand.
“Take care of that one,” Ernesto continued in a hoarse whisper, nodding his head toward the dais. “He does not belong here and may not be here for long, not if the rumors of what sent him out of Havana are true. Best leave him to the half-wit, if the rumors are true.”
And then, leaving me to ponder that and to reach for a leaf of the first variety of tobacco to be rolled and bunched into a perfect Vegas Robaina cigar, Ernesto took two steps along the edge of the factory table and cuffed the runner, Teotilo, roughly on the back of head.
“The presses are waiting, dim-wit,” he hissed. “Stop gawking and pick up the rhythm.”
With that, La Lectura broke his glance at Teotilo, lifted the book in his hand, and began reading in that rich baritone of his, rhythmically, providing the beat for the preordained, precise, movement-efficient steps of the leaf bunching process.
“. . . and he had gone eight-four days now without taking a fish.”
Not too many days after that a hurricane brushed past the northwest peninsula of Cuba in the night, appearing without warning in our remote, almost-forgotten Vuelta Abajo region, stripping the trees of their leaves and smaller branches and churning up the gravel and mud in the already deeply pitted paths that hardly classified as roads. I had no means of communication even if the telephone service had withstood the winds. And not knowing how Minas de Matahambre and the cigar factory had fared in the night’s storm, I had little option other than to pick my way through the fallen debris for two hours on what was normally a one-hour trek from my seaside shack to the town.
Most of the workers were gathered at the factory when I arrived. The town’s electricity was out, and, more seriously, the only roads into the town were impassible. Ernesto informed us there would be no cigar rolling that day. The freshness of Vegas Robainas had to be guaranteed, and there was no guarantee when a shipment could be gotten out of the town and to Havana, so production was just being suspended until more was known on possible scheduling. Ernesto did say that if I wanted the day’s pay, I, as the strongest of the workers present, could stay and move bales of tobacco onto pallets in case the stream running next to the factory flooded. I readily agreed to stay, not wanting to miss the pay, such as it was, and having already walked into the town. There was no question that La Lectura would be expected to do such work, and Ernesto dismissed Teotilo with a sniff as being too small to lift the heavy bales and not bright enough anyway to understand where they should go to escape the danger of rising water.
For Ernesto’s part, he happily decamped to the café in the town’s square with Estelle for a thimble of wine and an unexpected fuck in the café’s back room while his wife assumed he was safely hard at work at the cigar factory.
Not long afterward I was moving bales of tobacco into the factory’s store room when I heard noises from a dark corner of the shed, behind some tobacco bales. Instinctively, I sauntered over to see what was making the noise and just barely was able to hold myself in check before revealing my presence, just on the other side of a stack of bales from where the two were fucking.
They were both naked, Estaban’s finely formed, light-skinned body more easily discernible in the dim light. Teotilo’s smaller, squatter dark-skinned body was belly down on a tobacco bale. The balls of his feet were barely able to stretch to the floor and he was rising and falling on his toes to the rhythm of the thrusts of Estaban’s cock between his butt cheeks. Estaban was covering the small Mulatto figure closely from behind, his chest pushing Teotilo’s down on the fragrant broad, compacted tobacco leafs at the top of the bale, and his mouth very close to Teotilo’s ear. Teotilo’s smile at the taking was beatific.
The sound that I had heard and that had brought me to this corner of the shed was the rich baritone murmuring of La Lectura.
He was reciting love poetry to Teotilo as he fucked him. “If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain. If I . . . ,” he was whispering in the young peasant’s ear. Teotilo certainly didn’t recognize the poetry of Emily Dickinson when he heard it, but I, city raised in the family of a prominent doctor, did. But Teotilo obviously didn’t care. He was completely transported not only by the fuck but by the overwhelming presence of the cultured and strong-cocked La Lectura. He was being taken into a new world of passion and desire he never before had imagined possible and possibly never again would be able to attain. This was his moment, the sum total of any excitement he would be able to wrest from life was, quite possibly, wrapped up in this fully possessing fuck by a master of lovemaking in the back corner of a cigar factory shed in the remoteness of the Cuban countryside.
And I was transported as well. Standing there, in the shadows, voyeuristically sharing in Teotilo’s taking, my hand stroking my own hardened cock through the thin cloth of my trousers, I ached for what Teotilo was receiving. The husky-toned love poetry; the strong, virile body of Estaban encasing mine; the movement of his manhood inside me.
They were kissing now, and Estaban was stroking in a strong, steady thrusting. Teotilo was sighing and moaning. I was moaning too, but I didn’t really realize I was until Estaban’s head turned toward me.
I have no idea whether I retreated farther into the shadows in time, but I sensed that Estaban’s gaze had taken me in, possibly not realizing it was me, but surely knowing someone was there. But it didn’t seem to matter. Teotilo grunted and groaned at some more intense change in Estaban’s fucking, and La Lectura began discoursing again, this time from Shelley, in a stronger voice than before, a voice that clearly carried to me halfway back across the shed to where I had been working and where I, full of envy and jealousy and want, resumed moving bales.
“I bring fresh showers for thirsting flowers, From the seas and the streams; I bear light . . .” Not only love poetry, I realized, but poetry that transported the one he was making love to out of this dreary existence. I ached for the attention that Teotilo, the half-wit Mulatto, was receiving, probably not even half capable of fully appreciating the gift he was receiving.
It did not get back to my shack by the sea until late that evening. I had worked hard all day, trying to purge myself of what La Lectura had awakened in me. Those dangerous secrets, the weakness that had caused me to escape Havana and to seek the isolation and scourge of the hard but honest work in the remote cigar factory. The urges were nearly overwhelming. I wasn’t even sure I could return to the factory. Ernesto had been more right than he imagined. La Lectura was a danger to me. I wasn’t even sure that my hands could control their trembling in La Lectura’s presence and under the influence of his stroking baritone voice enough to be able to go through the demanding movements of the leaf bunching.
I stripped down to my undershorts by the door to my shack and pumped the water up until it rose up the water pipe by the door. I pumped for some time, standing under the cold water sluicing down onto my tired, aching, but yearning body. I dried myself with the towel hanging there and entered the dark single room of my shanty.
The voice was low, rich, husky, mesmerizing. “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely . . .” Shakespeare. I had been chilled by the cold water sluicing over my body, but I began to tremble in earnest now, my knees knocking together. My first instinct was to turn and flee, but my feet moved on their own command. They drew me closer to my cot, to the source of the poetry.
“Come to me,” La Lectura murmured. “You want me, don’t you? I could see it in your eyes.”
“No.” I whimpered. But I was still shuffling toward the bed.
“No? Could I have been wrong?”
“No.” I said again. This time so much weaker. Resolve draining out of me.
“No, what?” The voice. I would melt for the voice alone. But so much more was on offer than the voice.
“No, you weren’t wrong,” I capitulated in a whisper.
He was on his back on the cot, naked. Beautiful. Fully aroused. Ready for me.
I stood, at his direction, a leg on either side of the cot, over his chest, as his soft mouth came up to my cock and swallowed me and transported me beyond this world. He had lubricant and while he played my cock with lips and teeth, his fingers opened my canal and prepared me for mounting.
I stood there, whimpering and remembering. Remembering what had sent me into the countryside. Being overwhelmed with the realization of how much I had missed this, how much I wanted it. How much more I wanted it from La Lectura.
When we were both ready, he capped his sword and pulled me down onto the center of him. I cried out as ever before at the initial entry, but the memories flooded in, and my walls luxuriated in the expanding of the throbbing invasion and closed lovingly around his prodigious tool. He was holding me by my hips with his hands, but the balls of my feet knew the rhythm, remembered what to do, how to leverage off the floor on either side of the cot, and I was rising and falling on his manly staff, drawing him ever farther into me.
“I knew it. I knew it would be like this,” he murmured, his voice turning dreamy. “I have wanted you since the first moment. I have dreamed thee; I have sought thy essence, to assuage thy sadness. To see thee smile; to smile for me alone, to melt and meld to me and to be mine to the depths of thee.”
Not any poetry I’d ever heard, but poetry to me. The words of love I’d longed to hear for a lifetime, that I’d never even heard in Havana.
He had lifted his head to me and he was kissing my nipples and my sternum. His lips went up my chest and into the pit of one of my arms and he was licking and snuffling me in there, inhaling my essence.
“So young, and beautiful and perfectly formed,” he was whispering. “And so tight and deep and warm inside. I want to possess you—to the quick, moving as one.”
He was stroking my cock with his fist, and I was sighing and moaning for him, lost in his attentions; awed that he was making love to me with his rich voice and his throbbing cock.
When I had cum in a great spouting of pent-up cream, he turned me on my belly on the cot and covered me closely with his body and began a rhythmic stroking of his cock down into me between tightly encased butt cheeks. He was growing larger and my channel was more constricted than before. The full circle of my interior walls felt every vein and tremble of his moving cock. And loved it, remembering, remembering.
I was so fully focused on the waves and waves of pleasure rising up from the center of me that I have no idea when he’d begun reciting again in whispering lips at my ear lobe ” . . . Kissing with golden face the meadows green; Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy . . .” Surely Shakespeare again.
I melted and drifted off into another, more beautiful world.
I awoke hours later, in his arms, his cock tumescent inside me, spent after multiple takings and flowings in the earlier hours. His breathing was regular, and I didn’t realize he was awake.
“You’ll come when I call?” I was amazed, flattered that he even phrased it as a question in that rich, possessing voice of his.
“Yes. Anytime, anywhere.”
And I was being lifted onto my knees, and he astride my hips and was quickly rising inside me again, and a hand came around and across my belly, taking possession of my ball sac and the base of my cock. And I was moaning and sighing and being stroked in dulcet tones with snippets of Shakespeare’s sonnets as La Lectura, my lover, restored purpose and pleasure to my life. I could sing for joy now as I rolled those perfect Vegas Robaina cigars just as long as La Lectura was there on the dais and in my bed to provide rhythm and poetry to my life.